South Africa sealed the series by crushing Australia by 492 runs in the fourth and final Test on Tuesday, a dire end for Australia to its most traumatic cricket tour in recent memory. The result ranks as Australia's second-heaviest defeat by runs, their heaviest in 90 years, and the heaviest for any team in Test cricket since 1934.
Failure for the Aussies at the Wanderers — where they had an outside chance of saving the series — was not surprising following the ball-tampering scandal that blew up in the third Test in Cape Town.
It led to bans for the captain, vice-captain and a third key batsman, and prompted coach Darren Lehmann to say he was quitting. The moves haunted the remainder of the team for the week leading up to the last game.
The huge scale of the loss for Australia, from winning the opening match convincingly to losing the series 3-1, was telling.
Australia lost the last two Tests by 322 runs and then an even more humiliating 492 runs, underlining how much morale disintegrated after the cheating scandal, and maybe how much of a challenge it's going to be to rebuild for a cricket team regarded as the best in the world over the last 30 years.
For years, Australia have been used to sending teams to historic defeats, not suffering them.
"Coming into the (last) Test match, I certainly thought we were going to be a hell of a lot better than we have been," new captain Tim Paine said.
"Obviously it (the ball-tampering episode) had more of an effect on guys than probably we knew ourselves.
"The opportunity to get home and take a breath and reset and start again might be refreshing to guys in the next couple of days. But certainly, at the moment, there's a fair bit of disappointment and borderline embarrassment in our change room."
Nevertheless, Paine said the Australians accepted an invitation from the South Africans to have a beer in the home team's dressing room next door, a chance for opponents to ease the tension of an ill-tempered monthlong series that was marred by numerous unsavory moments, not just the cheating scandal.
The only problem, Australia's rapid capitulation came early on the final morning. Not quite the normal drinking hours.
"An early beer, that's for sure," Paine sad.
"It might be a coffee. But we'll go next door."
Australia were already headed for defeat at 88/3 at the start of the final day, needing a near-impossible total of 612 to level the series. Batting out for a draw would have been the most realistic target to save some pride, but Australia lasted barely an hour and just 16.4 overs of day five at the Wanderers.
Australia were bowled out for 119, losing seven wickets for 31 in a whirlwind collapse.
South Africa seamer Vernon Philander had Shaun Marsh caught off the pad on the first ball of the day, removed his brother Mitchell Marsh off the fourth ball, and Australia succumbed to an embarrassing final act.
The triumph also gave South Africa a long-awaited first series victory at home over Australia since 1970, the last Test series in South Africa before two decades of isolation because of apartheid. That record, of missing out on a series win over Australia at home for so long, bugged South African cricket for a long time.
"This means a lot to us," said South Africa captain Faf du Plessis, who pointed to Australia's victory in the series opener and an ugly off-field confrontation between David Warner and Quinton de Kock as the moment that galvanized the South Africans.
"We were extremely motivated before this series and up for the challenge, but there was definitely a shift in mindset after that first test," du Plessis said. "We almost went from motivated to motivated/angry to try and turn it around. The guys were really pumped after that first game."
Philander finished with 6/21, and six wickets for just 12 runs on the day, clinching a third straight victory of the series for South Africa.
In almost every statistic, South Africa dominated the Ashes winners: Four batsmen made centuries in the series, with opener Aiden Markram collecting two. No Australian made a hundred. The three highest run-scorers of the series were South Africans. And South Africa's quick bowlers out-bowled the Aussies: Spearhead Kagiso Rabada was the leading wicket-taker and Pat Cummins was the only Aussie in the top four bowlers of the contest.
The end for Australia on Tuesday was calamitously fitting: Nathan Lyon couldn't make his ground scrambling for a second run. The run out denied South Africa quick Morne Morkel one more wicket in his last test before retiring.
Morkel had nostalgic tears in his eyes at his final news conference, a moment that restored some spirit to the series and the sport after banned Australians Steve Smith, David Warner, and Cameron Bancroft broke down in distress while fronting the media after they were sent home in disgrace for the ball-tampering plan.
"A lot of guys say they don't miss the game, but I'm definitely going to miss it," Morkel said.
"Not one day did I not enjoy coming to nets. I enjoyed warm-ups, I enjoyed everything. I've still got love for the game."